Documentary Provides Intimate Look at Arab-American Experience
'Fordson' examines life and football in a predominantly Muslim city.
Many of the stories told in the documentary Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football could come from any number of small towns across America.
The film is set in a blue collar community with a passion for high school football. Caring coaches motivate their students. Teens dream of playing college ball and talk about the family members that inspired them to join the team. Small children play with footballs during potluck dinners on the patio, while their dads watch the game on TV. It’s a profoundly American story. It just happens to be one set in a town predominantly populated by Muslims of Arab descent.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, many writers and filmmakers tried to address how the country was coming to terms with the “new normal.” Even Americans who didn’t directly lose friends or family felt the world shift.
In few places was the change as dramatic as in Dearborn, MI. Home to Ford Motor Company, the suburb of Detroit has become home to one of the largest populations of Arabs outside the Middle East.
Fordson focuses on the football team at Dearborn’s Fordson High School as they gear up to play their rivals across town. The team members endure grueling schedules of class and practice while observing Ramadan, a month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
As they go through drills, the players rinse their mouths with water but don’t drink, waiting to break their fasts at family dinners. In a particularly humorous scene the guys chat about all the things that fasting leaves them craving including peanut butter, Snickers ice cream bars and tabbouleh.
They consider the sacred fast a show of mental as well as physical strength that will help them succeed. The interview subjects are often reminiscent of characters on Friday Night Lights and the dramatic game couldn’t play out better if it was scripted.
Many of Dearborn’s families have been living in the United States for generations. They consider themselves American, but in the last decade they’ve been increasingly forced to deal with the realization that many Americans disagree.
Director Rashid Ghazi beautifully presents that conflict in Fordson. Old black-and-white images of Arab-Americans working, spending time with family and generally living the American dream appear on the screen during the opening credits accompanied by venomous sound clips accusing all Muslims of hating America and harboring terrorist tendencies.
A football player’s mother expresses her concern that he’ll get injured on the field in one scene; in another she breaks down in tears when she discusses learning another son was arrested on terrorism charges because he was trying to make some cash buying and selling cell phones. The charges were later dismissed.
Dearborn’s demographics make it unique, but what’s so striking about the film is how normal and traditionally American the community is. Women may wear hijabs and players may recite a prayer in Arabic before taking the field, but it’s easy to quickly get past those differences and just sympathize with the people on screen.
Fordson is a touching and often surprisingly funny way of providing moviegoers with an intimate look into a community that has become the target of so much hate and suspicion. While it’s already brought out crowds of Muslims, it’s a film experience even more valuable for Americans of different faiths.
As people across the country commemorated the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2011, Fordson began a limited run at AMC theaters in 11 major cities including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. At the 7 p.m. Sunday showing in Skokie, the crowd was small, but enthusiastic, breaking into applause at the end of the film.
“I thought it was great,” said Rifath Khan of Lincolnwood. “It’s just letting the world know what Muslims are really about. We’re not about hurting anyone. Islam is a peaceful religion.”
Zanab Khan, a junior at Niles North High School, said she was excited to watch a positive portrayal of Muslims after seeing so much media portray her community negatively.
“Coming out and supporting this movie meant a lot to us,” the Morton Grove resident said. “We’ve been waiting anxiously for it to come out. It was really inspirational.”
Fordson producer Ash-har Quraishi lives just minutes from the AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18 and came by after the screening to thank audience members. He spent the weekend visiting screenings in Chicago and Barrington along with his wife and co-producer Basma Babar Quraishi.
“I’m running into people at these screenings that I haven’t seen in 10, 15, 20 years,” he said.
While Quraishi said it was not his original intention to release the film around the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, he said he’s happy with how the timing worked out.
“I think that it raises a lot of opportunities to talk about things people don’t want to talk about,” he said. “I think this film is such an easy, accessible way for people to learn about a misunderstood community. A lot of people have been saying, ‘We’ve been waiting for something like this.’”
Editor's note: Fordson runs through September 15th in Chicago. Stay tuned to Patch for more on the film's creators later this week.
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